title: A Guide to Being Born [support an independent bookseller and buy at Strand]
by: Ramona Ausubel
genre: short stories/magical realism
source: I received an advanced reader’s copy via LibraryThing in exchange for an honest review
I received my copy of A Guide to Being Born back in April, and I am KICKING myself it took me so long to crack it open. Ramona Ausubel’s collection of thematically linked short stories is delightfully bizarre and unlike anything I’ve ever read. Each piece was distinct and struck its own unique chord, yet cohesive with the rest of the collection. Hauntingly, achingly beautiful, these stories stayed with me long after I finished the final page. A few of my favorite pieces:
Atria: A young girl becomes pregnant and is convinced that the child growing inside of her is any number of animals, but decidedly not human. Disturbing, but at the same time deeply relatable.
Tributaries: Ausubel imagines a world in which, every time you fall in love, you grow an additional arm. Talk about wearing your heart on your sleeve (Go ahead. Groan! I can’t resist a pun when it’s HANDED to me!)! Joking aside, think of how many people you know who enter into or remain in a relationship with someone they’re not in love with…and think about all the hopeless romantics you know who fall in love far too quickly…how many arms would they have? What if we couldn’t hide how we felt, if we were literally forced to carry our feelings on the outside? How would it change the way we interacted with the world?
Welcome to Your Life and Congratulations: A young boy’s cat, Houdini, is hit by a car, and the bizarre burial arrangements consume most of the day. Ausubel’s depiction of the way each member of the family handles grief and death is incredibly affecting, as well as a bit disturbing.
Poppyseed: The most heartbreaking piece in the collection, IMHO. The story follows a husband and wife raising a child with a rare genetic developmental disorder that renders their daughter completely dependent upon them, an infant trapped in the body of an eight-year-old. Written as alternating narrative passages from the father’s perspective and as letters from the mother’s, this story left me weeping during my morning commute…thank goodness I usually have the train car to myself that early in the morning!
Rubric rating: 8.5 No One is Here Except All of Us just shot up closer to the top of my to read pile.